Jesus Said What?!

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Some people think that Jesus was just a good man. They believe he had some helpful things to say about how we should treat one another and stop being so darn judgmental. As for his miracles or his claims of being God, though, that is stuff that can be shrugged off as either exaggerated or simply made-up. For those who see Jesus as just a good man, he is lumped in with history’s best philosophers and philanthropists. He is to be admired and maybe even imitated, but certainly not worshipped.

There is a serious problem with this way of thinking about Jesus. To conclude that he is merely a good man or a significant moral teacher is the result of failing to let Jesus speak for himself. Yes, Jesus did say some beautiful things about love and forgiveness and hope. Yet he also said some of the most controversial, offensive, and confrontational things anyone in history has ever said. There is a sense in which many people believe in a divided Jesus, taking what they like from him and leaving the rest behind. Yet we can’t treat Jesus this way, especially since we hate to be treated this way by others. We need to hear him out in total before we make our judgment call. And, I suggest, almost no one would call him a moral man or a good teacher if they heard everything Jesus had to say and believed that he really said it and meant it.

Shocking Words

Case in point, consider what Jesus says in Luke chapter 11.

[9] And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. [10] For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. [11] What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; [12] or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? [13] If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Oh, sure, there are some wonderful and encouraging words here on prayer, but did you catch that little phrase in verse 13? Jesus said “…you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…”

Wait just a minute!

Did Jesus just say what I think he just said? Did he just say that people who know how to give good gifts are “evil?” That can’t be right, can it? Actually, it seems like he said specifically that dads who give good gifts to their kids are “evil”. Something must be wrong here, don’t you think? Maybe Jesus misspoke, or maybe we misunderstood him, or maybe he meant something different than what he said. Or could Jesus really have meant what he said? But what could possibly make Jesus look at a father who buys the shiny new bike his son wants and surprises him with it for his birthday, and then call that man “evil”?

Evil is the kind of word you don’t just throw around. We reserve a word like that for the worst of the worst, the scum of the earth. We talk about Hitler like that, or serial killers, or maybe even pedophiles. But gift-giving fathers? Evil? How can that be?

Jesus Calls It Like It Is

Evidently, Jesus sees something in the heart of men that other people don’t see. When we look at a father who buys nice presents for his children, we see a man who is loving and sacrificial and generous. We see a committed family man, a noble example to follow. We see love. But Jesus is different. Jesus looks at that same man and sees layers deep into his heart, and down there he finds something quite different. He sees evil.

Now, let’s be clear about something. Jesus never said that buying presents is evil. In fact, in the context of the story, he seems to imply just the opposite. He affirms it as something good and even godly. After all, the point is that God himself is a gift-giving Father, and certainly that is worth imitating. But even though the action itself is good and right, Jesus sees the person differently.

What we need to see here is that the kind of father that society would look on and praise is not seen that way by Jesus. We consider a father like that to be good, but Jesus doesn’t agree. What is it that he sees that we don’t? What makes him come to that conclusion?

More Evil Than We Think

Here’s the reality: we are all evil people. Yes, I said “all”. And I meant it. You, me, everyone. No one is excluded, except for Jesus himself. Do you think this too extreme? Is that the kind of thing only a maniac would say? Well, it’s the kind of thing Jesus said. Not only does he call these exemplary fathers “evil”, he also says in Luke 18:19 “No one is good except God alone.” While we usually tend to think of ourselves as “good people”, Jesus says we’re not. We’re not good, we’re actually evil. We are just the opposite of what we think we are.

If you ask someone “Are you a good person?”, they will usually say that they think so and then begin justifying their answer. They’ll say things like, “I care about people. I try to help them. I volunteer and give to good causes. I try not to steal or lie or hurt people. And I’ve never killed anyone.” But what’s the problem with this kind of justification? The problem is that is diminishes the meaning of the word “good”. We consider ourselves to be good so long as we’re not crazy bad. And doing a handful of decent things – or at least avoiding the terrible ones – makes us feel like our good probably outweighs our bad. Therefore, to consider ourselves “evil” seems absurd.

Jesus disagrees. He sees the human race in reverse. Rather than seeing mankind as basically good people who sometimes do bad things, he sees mankind as basically evil people who sometimes do decent things. Isn’t that the point of Luke 11:9-13? Jesus says that if evil people know how to give a decent gift, then how much more can we trust the infinitely good God to do the same?

Jesus here is being very offensive. He says that even decent dads are evil. In fact, he says that “no one is good”, despite those who think otherwise. Evidently, Jesus has a much higher standard of “good” than we do. He sees “good” as having a moral righteousness that exceeds even the best father on earth. Jesus sees sin and wrongdoing as being far more present in our lives than we typically do. He sees the general condition of the human race and the word that comes to his mind in describing it is “evil”.

Responding to Jesus According to His Word

At this point, we have a choice to make. Are we going to listen to our own assessment of ourselves, or are we going to listen to Jesus’ assessment? What’s curious is that the very people who might call Jesus a good man would here be quick to sharply disagree with him. They demonstrate a strange inconsistency, thinking that Jesus is a useful and authoritative moral teacher in some regards but ought to be labeled a nut-job in other respects. They are quick to take his “love your neighbour” and “judge not” statements, but just as quick to reject his “you are evil” remarks. I do not think this is wise. Jesus claims to be more than someone with helpful ideas that we are free to accept or reject as we please. He claims to speak with absolute authority – the kind that demands nothing short of full submission. The question is, who is authoritative in your life? Is it you? Or is it Jesus?

My plea to you is to see Jesus as authoritative and listen to his Word over your own. If Jesus sees every human as evil, then we should not feel placated by doing something nice like giving a great birthday present. It is unwise to feel like we can stand before God morally justified. To think that we can do so is borne out of arrogance and self-reliance, the very things Jesus came to destroy. Jesus came to champion humility and reliance on him. Isn’t that why he died? Jesus said that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). What did he think we need to be ransomed from? The answer is our sin. Jesus knows that no one can stand before God and be anything except condemned as evil sinners, and so Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sin for us. On the cross, acting in our place, Jesus took the wrath of God upon himself.

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9)

Simply put, he died in our place for our sins. And because he took God’s wrath as our substitute, all who trust in him are ransomed. They are set free from guilt and condemnation. They are forgiven and made righteous. But, no one can have that if they first don’t recognize that they need it. Salvation begins with seeing yourself as evil, as rebelling against God and not giving him the honour that he is due. We all are guilty of living for ourselves, for being thankless, for being cruel, for being revengeful, for being negligent, for being unloving, for being indifferent towards the needs of others. We’re not nearly as good as we think we are. We are sinners, and we need a Saviour to deliver us. That’s Jesus. He came to set free those who are trapped in their wickedness. But if you never see the trap, you won’t look for the way out.

Let me encourage you to acknowledge your sin and see that you fall short of God’s expectations. Begin to grasp where you stand, as a sinner who needs grace, and see Jesus as the only one who can give it. He died for you. He saw your evil and stepped in to pay the price for it. Trust him!

This message is counter-cultural. It is offensive. It is controversial. But it is true, and it is the only thing that can save you.

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